Bucs have a right to celebrate after breakthrough win

"It felt good,''  Lovie Smith said of his first win as head coach of the Bucs. "It's a feeling you want to have again.'' [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
"It felt good,'' Lovie Smith said of his first win as head coach of the Bucs. "It's a feeling you want to have again.'' [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
Published Sept. 30, 2014

TAMPA — One game, one win and, suddenly, everything is just peachy again.

For a few minutes, it's easy to forget that the Bucs' problems still far outweigh their solutions.

The offensive line continues to have issues. The injuries continue to pile up. There are still serious doubts about whether the new offensive coordinator knows what he is doing and whether the new/old/new quarterback has what it takes to be a consistently good NFL starter.

But, win a football game in the NFL and you're allowed to take a moment to enjoy it.

So, enjoy it, Bucs. For the first time in a month, a dark cloud isn't hanging over One Buc Place.

"It felt good,'' Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. "It's a feeling you want to have again. A lot of excitement, I'll just say that, in our locker room. When you get a win and you haven't had one … so many people contributed, and you can tell by their reaction on whether they felt like they were a part of it. And everybody felt — from their reaction — (they) helped us win that football game.''

True that.

From the expected (Gerald McCoy, Vincent Jackson) to the unexpected (Da'Quan Bowers, Mike Glennon) to the practically unknown (Louis Murphy), the Bucs got contributions from all over to win for the first time this season in a 27-24 upset at Pittsburgh.

While Steeler Nation is calling it the worst home loss in Heinz Field history (one Pittsburgh columnist wrote, "Shame on the Steelers.''), the Bucs are counting it among the sweetest victories in recent memory.

Man, did they need this one.

Sure, the Bucs might go out next week and get toasted at New Orleans. Maybe they will win only another couple of games the rest of the season. But when you've spent a month chasing that first victory and it finally comes, everything changes.

Think of it this way: imagine what the Bucs would be feeling today had they lost. Then they would be 0-4 and desperate for that first victory.

Say Jackson dropped that last pass and say the Bucs would have failed to score on fourth down. Ultimately, how they played for 60 minutes would have still been the same. The only difference would have been the final score.

But that's the point. The final score is pretty much all that matters to determine whether you are on top of the mountain or down in the dumps.

"Of course, the ride home was as good of a ride as we've had — everything's a little bit better,'' Smith said. "Looking forward to seeing the players (today). … The mood will be different. Because everything we're doing, we've asked the players to have faith. To validate what we're doing and how we're doing it, you need to get a win.''

For the first three weeks of the season, just about everything that could have gone wrong for the Bucs did go wrong.

Their starting quarterback stunk up the joint before he was injured. Their best player, McCoy, got hurt. Their best running back, Doug Martin, got hurt. Other key players went down.

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They lost their offensive coordinator, perhaps for the season, with a heart ailment.

They lost two games to backup quarterbacks then were throttled on national television in a game they trailed, at one point, by the score of 56-0.

A season of promise and hope quickly spiraled into a season of doubt and embarrassment.

"Early on — I'm just not saying this — early on though, you need to go through adversity like that,'' Smith said. "You need everything to go wrong. What else could happen to make us go down that road? We've had to face a lot of things, and our guys haven't blinked. They've just adjusted to it."

Perhaps that was the most impressive part of Sunday's victory. It wasn't an easy victory. It wasn't one of those games where they jumped out to a big lead and cruised.

It was a grind-it-out type of victory. It was a game that turned on just a handful of critical plays. It was a game that could have easily been lost if not for a defensive stop here or a clutch first-down pass there.

It took mental toughness and big-time guts.

Maybe all the junk the Bucs went through in the first month actually did help them endure the tough moments Sunday.

"Adversity, it makes you check yourself,'' said Smith, recalling that character-shaking loss in Atlanta. "I'm sure there are some questions you have going in, but our team really kind of stood the test. Things did go against us.

"We didn't blink at all and that was good to see. To get your first win, you need to get through that, through a hard time like that to see that you can get over the hump."

So what happens now? What changes now that the Bucs have gotten over the hump?

For starters, they can go back to believing that everything they are doing can work. A victory is validation.

Meantime, they can also look at the standings and see, incredibly and despite the nightmare start, that they are just a game out of first place in the NFC South.

But mostly, they can look forward to going to work again. They can be excited and confident.

Smith said that after Sunday's game, he told Steelers coach Mike Tomlin that the Bucs needed that win more than the Steelers did.

Man, he sure got that right.

Contact Tom Jones at or (727) 893-8544. He can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620.